The NHL recently announced some rule changes for the upcoming season. The majority of them are focused on increasing offensive opportunities during the game. The new rules are outlined below.
The trapezoid that demarcates the area behind the goal line where a goaltender can legally handle the puck has been enlarged. The goal line side has been increased from 18 to 22 feet, giving goalies a bit more room to play the puck near the side of the net.
The hash marks along the faceoff circles in end zones have been expanded from three feet (3') apart to five feet seven inches (5'7") apart, bringing the NHL hash marks to the current international standard. This should cut down on pre-faceoff battles between wingers/defencemen lined up beside each other in end zone faceoffs. The increased separation will also result in more room for the forwards on the offensive team to get into position to make an offensive play after a faceoff win. On the flipside, as pointed out by John Shorthouse during a recent Canucks' pre-season game, it will be more difficult for offensive players to regain control of the puck after an offensive zone faceoff loss as they now have more distance to travel relative to the defenders.
Not only are there changes to the way players will line up for end zone faceoffs, but there are several new rule changes for how and why those faceoffs will occur.
This season, any shot attempt that goes out of play, regardless of whether it went off of a defending player, some part of the net, or even off the stick of an offensive player, will now result in an offensive zone faceoff. The rule also applies in any situation where the puck lands on the net and is deemed to be unplayable.
There is also a change to how faceoff infractions by the defending team after icing calls will be handled. Previously, a faceoff infraction (e.g. interfering with the opposing faceoff man, failing to get into proper position for a draw) was penalized by the linesman waving the offending player from the faceoff and forcing another skater to come in and take the draw. The problem with this solution was that it could be abused to delay a faceoff and get more time for a team to rest after an icing call. A player would step up to the faceoff dot with no intention of actually taking the draw, but rather to get thrown out and give his teammates a few more seconds before the play started.
In an alteration to the rules for this season, the defensive player who initially enters the faceoff resulting from an icing call will be required to stay and take the draw even if he gets called for an infraction. A second faceoff foul by the player will result in a minor penalty. This should speed up the time between an icing being called and play resuming, which could lead to more scoring chances in the offensive zone.
It's not clear how this rule will be handled by the linesmen, however. It hasn't been established how a linesman will signal that a player has committed a faceoff foul (under the previous method he woud simply extend his arm in the direction of the offending player and wait for him to be replaced by another player) or how much time will pass before a linesman will be ready to drop the puck again.
In fact, this rule was enforced quite poorly in the pre-season, with linesmen usually using the old rule and ejecting players. The only time I actually saw the new rule in effect was during the Canadiens-Blackhawks game, and that was after a Hawks player reminded the linesman that the same player needed to take the draw again.
The most siginificant changes this season may be in the way the NHL handles goal reviews. Hockey Operations will have the ultimate say in whether a goal should count or not and have increased power to overturn a referee's call on the ice. Refs can gesticulate a call of 'goal' or 'no goal' as vehemently as they desire, it will have almost no weight in determining whether a goal will count or not.
The NHL is determined to make the correct call when it comes to scoring plays. It doesn't matter if the whistle has gone before the puck crosses the goal line, as it did in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarter-finals in 2011. This will be deemed a continuation of the play (as in the NBA after a foul call) and called a goal by Hockey Operations in the 2014-'15 season:
This new shift in responsibilites may be best highlighted by the sequence of events in the Canadiens-Predators game on October 19th, 2013 where the referee signalled a goal for Lars Eller and subsequently announced after video review that the call of the four officials had been "no goal" before launching the review process. That was an egregious violation of the rules last season, as the call on the ice was supposed to have the most sway in goal reviews. This year, that type of call will be the norm and legally ruled on a regular basis.
There will also be much more leniency in allowing goals to be scored by players using their feet. There needs to be "more demonstrable video evidence of a 'distinct kicking motion'" in order for goals off of feet to be disallowed. The "distinct kicking motion" is defined as propelling (i.e. supplying the momentum necessary) as opposed to deflecting (i.e. redirecting the momentum) the puck into the net with one's feet.
If the game is tied after the third period, there will be a five-minute break before overtime in order for the Zambonis to perform a dry scrape (i.e. picking up the snow without flooding) of the ice surface. This means that there is more of a delay between the end of regulation and the start of overtime, but if a better playing surface allows for more skilled plays to be made in the four-on-four overtime period, I think the wait will be tolerated.
Teams will also switch ends after the third period, which will introduce the dynamic of the "long change" to the five minutes of extra time. That will result in the same laboured line changes that we see in the second period and should create more offensive opportunities to end the game before it requires a shootout.
If the game is still undecided after the overtime period, the shootout should get underway in a more timely fashion than it has in previous seasons. First of all, with the ice having been cleared before overtime, there should be no need to do it again before the shootout. Also this year, the ridiculous process of each head coach filling out a form with the first three shooters has been eliminated.
There has been a slight alteration to the rule that states that a penalty shall not be called in the event that a defender takes down an attacker if the defender first touches the puck that attacker was carrying. The defender will no longer be immune from a penalty call in that circumstance if he trips the attacker after playing the puck. In that case, a tripping minor wil be assessed. In the event that a penalty shot would be the proper award for such a play--where a defender touched the puck first but subsequently performed a trip from behind on an attacker on a breakaway--the punishment will be a two-minute minor, not a penalty shot.
In the event of a penalty shot being awarded for a different infraction on a breakway--like a hold, a hook, or a trip from behind without the defender touching the puck first--the player designated to take the penalty shot will have one less trick available to him this season; the spin-o-rama has been banned from the list of allowed moves during a penalty shot as well as the shootout.
There are increased punishments for players who dive/embellish calls as well as their head coaches. The fines per infraction are:
|Incident #||Player Fine||Head Coach Fine|
It's not clear whether the determination of a dive/embellishment needs to be called by a referee during the course of the game or if it can be reviewed by the disciplinary committee after a game. A possible appeals process is also not detailed.
The categories of "physical fouls" and "stick infractions" have been expanded. Charging, clipping, elbowing, head-butting, interference, and kneeing have been transferred from the "general' category to the "physical fouls" category that previously contained boarding and checking from behind. Butt-ending has been relocated to the "stick infractions" category that includes cross-checking, hooking, slashing, an spearing.
A player who is given two game misconducts within a 41-game period for penalties from one of either the "physical fouls" or "stick infractions" categories will earn an automatic one-game suspension. Suspensions will increase by one game for each successive game misconduct in that category taken before 41 regular season games have been played since the last game misconduct. The procedure for post-season suspensions for game misconducts is the same as it is for the regular season, but regular season misconducts do not factor in to playoff discipline. Any game misconduct must be appealed by the team within 48 hours of its issuance.